Week ahead at Westminster
- 15 November 2013
- From the section UK Politics
There's some heavy and interesting legislating under way in both houses this week - expect a row in the Commons over the government's attempt to rebalance the armed forces with more reserves and fewer regulars, while in the Lords there are some rather interesting ideas in play - not least an intriguing Labour proposal for "Corporate ASBOs."
Watch out, too, for a show of strength from noble animal lovers in a Lords debate on the welfare of cats and dogs on Wednesday night (I wonder if anyone will mention the welfare of ermine?).
And the week will end with the next exciting episode in the saga of James Wharton's EU Referendum Bill, which will inch a little further towards clearing the Commons.
So effective has been the Labour operation to slow its progress that I would now be surprised if the bill reached the Lords before 2014.
Here's my rundown of the week ahead:
On Monday the Commons opens for business (2.30pm) with Work and Pensions Questions, followed (assuming no ministerial statements or urgent questions) by the report and third reading stages of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill - which makes various tweaks to the devolutionary settlement there, including ending the practice of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly holding a dual mandate to sit as MPs, or as Teachta í Dála in Dáil Éireann (members of the lower house of the Irish Parliament).
It also makes more information about donations and loans to political parties available to the public, but without compromising the security of individuals or businesses that might be targeted if their political sympathies became known.
MPs will also deal with a motion to extend the deadline for completing consideration of the Energy Bill until the end of February - this is a carryover bill, which means it started its journey through parliament in the previous session, and a resolution was passed to carry it over into the current one, and clearly the powers that be have concluded that it won't get through by the "sell-by" date written into that resolution.
The bill, which is mostly about setting a framework to guarantee a return which will persuade investors to put money into new generating capacity, should clear the House of Lords this week, so it's interesting that a three month extension to its parliamentary consideration is thought necessary.
Will it be used as a vehicle for the Prime Minister's promise to ditch green levies on fuel bills?
That would require adding on amendments during the "ping-pong" process, by which the Commons accepts or rejects amendments made in the Lords.
That is followed by a Backbench Business Committee debate on police procedures in dealing with mental health issues, led by Labour MP Madeleine Moon, the Conservative James Morris and Lib Dem former Health Minister, Paul Burstow.
They are concerned about the increasing demand for police assistance with incidents involving people with mental health problems and they want more triage nurses to assess cases, and better training for police officers when dealing with these incidents, and they will urge the Government to clarify the different responsibilities of the police and the NHS, in particular in instances involving distressing behaviour in the community.
The day ends with an adjournment debate on the sale of the Wellingborough prison site - this is the latest move in a continuing Commons campaign by Peter Bone, the local MP, who has already raised the future of the prison through one adjournment debate, a point of order and a question to the prime minister.
He will be demanding answers about the case for closure from Justice Minister Jeremy Wright.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to ministers include on how many personnel have left the Territorial Army and how many recruits have enlisted in the last 12 months, the number of public interest immunity certificates granted in cases of alleged fraud, the impact of the under-occupancy charge on the stability of communities and creating all-party consensus to tackle long-term youth unemployment.
After that, peers launch into their second day of committee consideration of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill - a wide ranging measure covering everything from evictions to dangerous dogs, terrorism, extradition, firearms, forced marriage, police complaints, the Serious Fraud Office and court fees.
This being committee stage, the debate is more about testing the arguments than forcing votes, but look out for an amendment co-signed by Lord Dear, the former Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Labour's Lady Mallalieu tightening the criteria for the new IPNAs - Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance from the "the balance of probabilities", that someone is or threatens to engage cause nuisance or annoyance to "beyond reasonable doubt".
And they also propose to say that IPNAs should be issued when "necessary and proportionate" rather than the current wording of "just and convenient".
Labour, in the form of Lady Smith of Basildon and Lord Rosser, are proposing to add in a new ASBO for business, a "Corporate anti-social behaviour order" to make it an offence for a corporate body to act in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
And the Conservative Lord Hodgson has an amendment to give the courts power to refuse to extradite a British citizen or resident, under a European arrest warrant.
With at least four more Committee Stage days scheduled, I'm not clear when all of the above will be debated, but they should be seen as harbingers of amendments which will be fought out at Report Stage, in due course.
There will also be a short debate on the security and humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic and the Great Lakes region of Africa - led by the Conservative Baroness Berridge.
On Tuesday the Commons meets at 11.30am - when the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg has his question time, followed by the Attorney-General Dominic Grieve.
Then, senior Conservative David Davis presents a Ten Minute Rule Bill on Public Interest Disclosure - the idea is to protect whistle-blowers who talk to MPs.
The day's main business is an Opposition Day Debate - at the time of writing the subject has not been announced. (I'll try to update as and when...)
In Westminster Hall the subjects for backbench debates include the oversight of free schools (Ian Mearns 9.30 - 11am), UK relations with Gibraltar and Spain (Jim Dobbin 11 - 11.30am) and UK relations with China (Mark Pritchard 2.30 - 4pm).
In the Lords (2.30pm) the subjects at Question Time include whether fracking for gas is dangerous, the creation of a humanitarian aid corridor in Syria and the current gripe du jour - the increase in the size of their Lordships' House.
Then, a milestone: after 12 gruelling committee and report stage days, the Energy Bill finally arrives at its legislative finishing post, the third reading debate.
After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to add in a decarbonisation target for 2030, Labour are planning one more try, proposing a requirement for a report to parliament, if electricity generation results in rising carbon output for two successive years.
But they may not push it to a vote.
Then peers will take all the stages of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill at a single gulp. Because this is a money bill, they do not, by convention, interfere. But there is a Motion to Regret down from the Labour Peer Lord Stevenson of Balmacara complaining that the scheme is "premature."
Newly-minted Lib Dem Transport minister Baroness Kramer, bats for the Government.
And so to Wednesday, when business in the Commons begins (11.30am) Welsh Questions, followed at noon by Prime Minister's Question Time.
The Labour MP John McDonnell has a Ten Minute Rule Bill calling for tougher regulation of Refractive Eye Surgery - laser surgery to you and me.
He has put down a series of parliamentary questions to the health secretary on this issue.
The day's main debates are on the report and third reading stages of the Defence Reform Bill - which aims to improve procurement and support of defence equipment and to strengthen the reserve forces.
That bit about the reserve forces is rather sensitive; the government is both reducing the size of the regular forces and substantially expanding the reserves, and critics believe the second part of that strategy is simply not working.
John Baron, the Conservative MP who led a backbench debate on the issue, has put down a new clause calling for the postponement of the government's reforms until a report to parliament has been produced, and voted on.
Meanwhile, a cross-party group of MPs led by Julian Brazier, who chairs the All Party Group on the Reserve Forces and who was commissioned by the prime minister to look at the future of the reserves, have put down two new clauses to the bill.
The first calls for an independent annual report to parliament, on the state and effectiveness of the reserve forces, and the second seeks to beef up the independent local management of the considerable portfolio of property used by reserve forces - everything from cadet huts to larger training grounds.
He's unlikely to force either to a vote, but given the heavyweight names who've signed up to both amendments, the minister (probably Phillip Dunne) might well feel the need to go some way to meeting the concerns being raised.
Over in Westminster Hall there will be the usual series of debates led by backbenchers.
Watch out for a rather tekky-looking discussion on International infrastructure and governance of the internet (11 - 11.30am) led by the Conservative Alun Cairns who's vice chair of the Parliamentary ICT forum.
He's worried that governments are attempting to take control over the international infrastructure of the internet, which is mostly controlled by civil society groups, with only the US wielding any government-level influence.
Part of the fallout from the Snowden affair is that other countries, and in particular Russia and China, are arguing that there should be multinational control of the net.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has been active on this issue - and a Foreign Office minister is expected to reply.
My eye was also caught by the debate at 4pm - 4.30pm Gay-to-straight conversion therapy - led by Labour's Sandra Osborne.
It follows on from here Early Day Motion 219: "That this House believes that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is not a disease or illness and that therapy which attempts to cure or change a person's sexual orientation is both ineffective and potentially extremely harmful".
Over in the Lords (from 3pm) questions to ministers range across recording whether someone remanded in custody, or sentenced to prison, has children, guidelines for judges on the sentences they can impose and which minister authorised GCHQ's Project Tempora, the monitoring of communications on the fibre optic cables serving the British Isles.
Then peers move on to day three of the committee consideration of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
Key issues will be closure of premises on grounds of ASB, public space protection orders, community remedies and triggers for action.
The day's short debate is on a subject to gladden the heart of any animal-lover: improving the welfare of cats and dogs in the UK.
Cat-loving Conservative Peer Lord Black of Brentwood leads what he believes is the first debate on general animal welfare issues since at least 1992.
He has a considerable litter of issues to deal with; the need to reform the law on sale of animals because the Pet Animals Act of 1951 doesn't cover pets sold online; the need to update the 1963 legislation on standards in kennels and catteries and a host of public policy issues around neutering, microchipping and the like.
He also wants to highlight the work of animal charities in coping with the number of pets people have not been able to afford because of the tougher economic circumstances.
Defra minister Lord De Maulay will respond for the government.
It's a 9.30am start in the Commons on Thursday.
MPs begin with Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Questions followed by Questions to the Church Commissioners (via their Commons spokesman Tony Baldry) followed by the weekly Business Statement, from the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley.
The main debates are on two subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee.
The first is a motion on the Finances of the House of Commons - noting a 17% real-terms cut in spending since the 2010-11 financial year.
Senior Lib Dem John Thurso leads, on behalf of the House of Commons Commission, the administrative arm of the Commons.
Last year, for the first time ever, the commons debated the advice that the Finance and Services Committee gives to the House of Commons Commission before it sets its budget.
That allowed MPs to raise all kinds of issues around the running of the house.
One strand of discussion will be the state of staff morale in the wake of the spending cuts - which at least one MP, Barry Sheerman, believes to be at rock bottom and that may mainline into the Speaker's new "respect agenda" on the treatment of parliamentary staffers.
Another subject may be the proposal for a visitors/education centre to be built next to the house.
The second debate is a follow-up to one of the surprise backbench legislative successes of this parliament.
A year ago, an All-Party Group led by the Plaid Cymru leader Elfyn Llwyd produced a powerful report arguing that tougher anti-stalking laws were needed - and with prime ministerial support new clauses were added to the Protection of Freedoms Bill within a matter of days. (See my blog from the time).
Mr Llwyd, along with Conservative Cheryl Gillan and labour's Sandra Osborne now wants to look at implementation.
Mr Llwyd's concerned that many police forces seem to prefer to use anti-harassment laws rather than the new powers now available and that both police and prosecutors still need more training to understand the seriousness of the issue.
Figures obtained via a freedom of information request show that only 33 offenders were convicted by the courts in England and Wales over the first six months after the new stalking laws came into force.
In England and Wales, during the period 25 November 2012 to 30 June 2013, 320 individuals were arrested, 189 of whom were charged with one of the new stalking offences. Of those charged, six received custodial sentences and a further 27 were found guilty and given community disposals.
The adjournment debate led by Labour's Emily Thornberry, is on Victims of mental health homicide and the justice system.
In Westminster Hall there's a chance for MPs to debate the latest annual report by the special select committee scrutinising Arms Exports and Arms Control, and the Government response to it.
Committee chair and former defence minister Sir John Stanley opens the batting.
In the Lords (11am) peers will question ministers on the steps being taken to discourage copycat websites that charge for services that are provided free of charge by government departments, the publication date for Public Health England's strategy for tuberculosis and the impact of the result of the elections to the Constituent Assembly in Nepal.
As usual on a Lords Thursday, the debates are on subjects chosen by backbench peers - policy towards countries responsible for violations of human rights, and then on the report by ResPublica, Holistic missions: Social action and the Church of England in which the think-tank argued that local government and churches should work together to fight deep-seated poverty and social dysfunction.
There's also an EU Committee debate on the effectiveness of EU research and innovation proposals.
The Commons also sits on Friday, (9.30am) to debate private members' bills - or in this case a private members' bill - the Conservative James Wharton's European Union (Referendum) Bill. This will be day two of what promises to be a protracted report stage.
On the first day a series of very long speeches and dragged-out votes meant that only one of the four groups of amendments chosen by the Speaker was disposed of, and at that rate there will have to be at least one more report stage day after this.
One highlight will be the vote on the Conservative Adam Afriyie's amendment to bring the referendum date forward from 2017 to 2014.
How many Conservatives will back him?
More amendments will have been added by MPs like Mike Gapes, Willie Bain and Peter Hain and the debate will certainly drag on - but with the weight of the Conservative Party behind the bill (and ensuring it has almost unprecedented debating time available) it should clear the Commons eventually.
The other Bills listed on the order paper are very unlikely to get an outing - but it will be worth watching at 2.30pm to see if any are allowed through to committee stage without objection.
In particular I'm thinking of Michael Ellis's Medical Innovation (No. 2) Bill, which would allow doctors to use more innovative treatments.